Imagine if Mumbai had a 114-km network of ‘greenways’ built above its railway tracks, creating traffic-free leisure spaces that could be used for parks and cycling tracks and to bring much-needed greenery to the city. Or if the dead spaces under flyovers were used for crèches, gardens and street schools.
To bring ideas such as these to the public, and to push for a better-planned city in which open spaces are not merely ‘leftover’ spaces, the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival has added a new section this year, on Urban Design and Architecture. “The only way people interact with a city is through experiences,” says Sarita Vijayan, co-curator of the section. “Encouraging better blueprints for urban design and architecture, then, is fulfilling the core promise of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival — to serve as a platform for great ideas.”
The city’s urban experts have a lot of great ideas, but in both a literal and metaphorical sense, no place to play them out in Mumbai, adds Vijayan’s cocurator, Ajay Nayak. “We want to bring these ideas out to show the public that a better city is actually achievable.” Since the festival’s theme this year is Momentum, the urban design and architecture section will look at how Mumbai moves.
An interactive installation titled Momentum Mumbai will aim to capture the mobility of the city, asking each visitor to mark a pin onto a map of Mumbai to denote how far they travelled to get to the festival. An ‘ideas exhibition’ will showcase innovative infrastructure solutions for the city. Panels will detail visual and textual plans such as the aforementioned Bombay Greenway Project of elevated greenways above railway lines, conceived by Abraham John Architects; and a plan called Mumbai on Two Feet, proposed by architect and activist PK Das, which envisions walking paths and cycling paths over unused drains. Experts, urban planners, architects and analysts will also participate in panel discussions through the course of the festival, discussing transformatory ideas and addressing issues of infrastructure, better design, safer mobility of women and the better use of public spaces.
“It’s important to let people know that there are viable solutions to the city’s space and infrastructural problems, which they often dismiss as issues that nothing can be done about,” says architect and planner Sameep Padora, who will be giving a presentation on how neighbourhoods can use formal and extra-legal ways to create infrastructure, using the example of how unused spaces between Bandra’s seven gaothans are now being used to house migrants. “The Kala Ghoda festival has done a great job of making art, earlier considered niche and esoteric, accessible to the public. The same can be done with architecture,” he says.